This review is brought to you in partnership with our friends at Vertigo Releasing
Ghosts of War is available to stream and buy from 17th July 2020 on all major platforms
Horror films exploring the interface between war, trauma, violence, and the supernatural are nothing new. From the sublime The Devils Backbone (2001) through to the stark and uncompromising Adrian Lyne classic Jacobs Ladder in 1990. However, in recent years horror has struggled to reflect war in a manner befitting the complexity of human violence and the effect on the individual. Opting instead for war based zombie flicks, and gore-filled stories lacking vision, bite, and creativity. Therefore, Ghosts of War starts from an interesting premise, with writer/director Eric Bress striking an intelligent and nuanced balance between war and horror. By wrapping the violence of battle within a classic haunted house tale. One that reflects the devastating human transition from civilian to hardened soldier. Alongside the haunting reality of death and destruction during war.
Haunted by strange dreams young G.I. Chris (Brenton Thwaites) leads a small troop of soldiers through occupied France. The year is 1944 and the Second World War is nearing its end, as the Nazis begin to lose their vice-like grip on Europe. His troop of beleaguered fighters weary of the bloodshed and trauma. While equally revelling in acts of mindless violence against Nazi occupying forces. From the bravado of Butchie (Alan Ritchson) through to quiet and calming influence of Eugene (Skylar Astin). While Tappert (Kyle Gallner) collects the gold teeth of Germans he has killed and Kirk (Theo Rossi) engages in stories of war, horror, and vengeance.
As Chris and his men near their next checkpoint, a grand Chateau once owned by a wealthy French family. Respite from the bloodshed and violence finally comes into view. However, on arrival, they find the troop of soldiers they are due to replace jittery and eager to leave. Each man’s face etched with fear as they pass the baton to Chris and his men. The grand surroundings of the Chateau covered with dust as the building creaks to a song of sadness. However, despite the fear of the soldiers before them, Chris and his men settle into the comfort of their surroundings. The horror of the house and its recent history remaining quiet until the sun disappears over the horizon and house wakes. The walls demanding each man face the true fear of their actions.
There is much to admire in the first half of Bress’ film, with each scene laced with fear and apprehension. As the mystery of the house and its recent past opens up in beautifully imagined supernatural horror. One that embraces both the time and place of the film’s narrative, while equally reflecting a hidden history. A well-crafted sense of foreboding threading through each scene as the soldiers realise they are not alone. However, this is also matched by a disjointed feeling of each soldier, neither fitting nor reflecting the time they inhabit. Their dialogue jarring against the 1940’s location. Something that leaves the viewer somewhat confused as the film progresses toward several significant twists and turns.
Those twists and turns offer the film a fresh and innovative direction as we move toward the story’s conclusion. However, equally feel somewhat disconnected to the fear of a solid first half. Ultimately creating a transition that some may find challenging to navigate, as we follow Chris and his troop into the darkest corners of their minds. Each man a battleground of internal regret, inaction, and fear. The horror and trauma of war spreading its tentacles far beyond the supernatural. As each soldier finally opens their eyes to the darkest fear of all; their actions.
As a horror movie, Ghosts of War cleverly embraces many of the tried and tested jumps of the classic haunted house picture. However, it also ejects much of its initial success as it attempts to navigate a wider meaning. Ultimately leaving the viewer confused as it moves beyond the boundaries of its strengths. However, in a world where innovation in horror can be lacking, it does deserve praise for trying to delve deeper even if the result is an exciting but clumsy finale. But that aside Ghosts of War is saved by both its performances and classic supernatural elements. Creating a solid horror movie that is only let down by a story that stumbles at the final hurdle.
Director: Eric Bress
Brenton Thwaites and Alan Ritchson also appears in Titans